As Kyle Waide visited the Atlanta Community Food Bank recently, where he is CEO, he ran into a woman who had recently lost her administrative job at a university. She was looking for work, she told him, but it was hard to find. She was struggling to get by.
Though she had food stamp benefits, she still needed to visit Waide’s food bank until she landed a new job, she added, because she had a home and a child to pay for. With her job gone, she said, she needed all the extra help she could get to feed her family.
Thousands in Atlanta like her are already struggling to make ends meet, even before the Trump administration scales back benefits to low-income Americans to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Snap) as food stamps are known. Approximately 700,000 Americans will soon lose their benefits as the government tightens the regulations around stable work requirements for recipients, stretching the already scarce resources of the communities that Waide’s operation helps.
Those communities are often African American, raising the prospect that Trump’s move will put extra stress on minority families. Approximately one in three households using Snap benefits are African American. In general, African American households are more likely to experience food insecurity, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In 2016, Snap helped more than 13 million African American households put food on the table, according to data from the US agriculture department’s fiscal year 2016 Snap Households Characteristic data.
Waide stresses the importance of Snap even as his food bank provides more than 63m meals to more than 750,000 Georgians annually. Snap, he says, provides 12 times the amount of assistance that food banks do nationwide.
“[Snap] is a very important source of nutrition for families, kids and seniors in our community,” he says. Annually, the food bank helps 10,000 residents of the state enroll for or renew Snap benefits.
Alex Camardelle, senior policy analyst at the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, says many of the 100,000 Georgians who are thought to be affected by the coming change will be African American.
“We’re concerned that high levels of unemployment in certain areas of the state, despite an overall improvement in the unemployment numbers, is going to disproportionately impact black Georgians,” he says.
Black Georgians, he adds, have an unemployment rate in the state that could be triple that of white residents, often because of additional barriers they face, like where they live, access to transportation and the difficulty of finding a job in a mandated period of time.
Waide echoes the sentiment. “Poverty and hunger disproportionately affect people of color. These are going to be low-income folks in rural communities who are economically vulnerable by definition,” he said. “When they can’t eat, they can’t get over other hurdles.”
Rural households experience more struggle with food security, according to the Food Research and Action Center, compared with households in metro areas. Food insecurity is also twice as high among African American households compared with white households, in rural communities or not.
The average Georgian on Snap benefits remains approximately eight months before cycling out of the program as they get back to some sort of stability, Waide explains, just as the program intends. The myth of anyone perpetually staying on government benefits just is not true, he says.
When the change to the work requirement takes place in April next year, Waide is confident the food bank will see a high demand to try to make up for the shortfall.
Last year, he points out, his food bank stepped in when a government shutdown left thousands of federal workers in Atlanta without pay.
“We mobilized our network and donors to distribute hundreds of thousands of meals. And we’ll do the same here, this time,” he said.